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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Iberian Pig: the litmus test restaurant?

Pork Tenderloin with cherry-Rioja reduction, spiced walnuts, piquillo peppers and crispy shallots (AJC Staff)

Pork Tenderloin with cherry-Rioja reduction, spiced walnuts, piquillo peppers and crispy shallots (AJC Staff)

Have you been to the Iberian Pig in Decatur? Do you love it? Or is it not for you? I’m beginning to think the answer to this question says a lot about what you look for in a dining experience.

Three times this week people have told me how much they love this restaurant. When I ask them what they enjoy about it, they tend to respond globally. “The vibe is great,” or “It’s such a nice surprise.”

Do they love the food? Absolutely, even though one fan failed to recall a single dish from the place. Another loved the meatballs stuffed with dates and peppers. A third mentioned the pork tenderloin (above) in cherry sauce.

Then these people ask me if I’ve been to the Iberian Pig. Yes, I respond noncommittally. But only once, so I don’t know it well at all.

In fact, my wife and I live around the corner from the Iberian Pig. We walked over once for some wine and a few small plates. The vibe was indeed special — cozy but urbane, with lots of warm brick, wood, hipsters in fedoras shaking cocktails, distinctive spaces that made each table seem a prime piece of real estate. The service was enthusiastic and attentive, with tastes of wine offered and detailed descriptions of every dish we asked about. I had the feeling our waitress could personally prepare any dish on the menu if called upon to do so. The food was mostly tasty and amply portioned. Yet we’ve never been back.

Why not? Something about the dim lighting and the saucy exuberance of the cooking conspired for too many “what are we eating” moments. What were those leathery, sweet bits in the salad? Oh right, parsnips. What’s this little crock of sauce served alongside a plate of decent (if not great) serrano ham. Espresso aioli. Seriously?

The meal hit all kinds of taste notes — sweet, spicy, rich, saucy, meaty, crunchy, tender, juicy — but failed to leave a clean impression. As much as we enjoyed our meal at this pleasant, inviting restaurant, we go out for food we can relate to. We wanted more bread with the ham, and no coffee mayonnaise.

Maybe I’m over-analyzing, but I wonder if the Iberian Pig serves as a good litmus test. If you like this restaurant for its generosity of spirit — for the big, warm hug of it all — then maybe you look for certain qualities in your dining experiences. Maybe you’re also less sensitive to competing flavors.

I’d really like to hear from people who go to the Iberian Pig and find out what other places you love. I think it’s an exemplar of a certain kind of dining experience, and your answers may help me do my job better when people come to me for restaurant recommendations.

48 comments Add your comment

Decatur Dan

May 25th, 2010
6:41 pm

Get ready for the hate, John! Describing Iberian Pig as anything other than 100% great is going to make the fans very mad.

Ormewood

May 25th, 2010
6:48 pm

Seems like a fun place. I’ve been there two or three times. The food, while not exceptional, is pretty decent. The staff and atmosphere make it a place where I don’t mind going every so often. I would not call it one of the better restaurants in Atlanta, but I do like going there.

Grumpy

May 25th, 2010
7:29 pm

The drink I had with bacon-infused bourbon was fantastic. The bartenders were great. The service was excellent, and the food was above average. Was I bowled over by every dish? Nope. But we all had a great time and can’t wait to go back.

puerquito

May 25th, 2010
7:32 pm

My issue with the Iberian pig is that they do not seem to understand the Iberian Peninsula very well.
Nothing on the menu quite captures what the restaurant’ name is implying.
The latin american influence is completely misguided.

puerquito

May 25th, 2010
7:33 pm

by the way, bacon infused bourbon is so 2 years ago…

AD

May 25th, 2010
7:46 pm

The Iberian Pig epitomizes the true Spanish tapas bar. It is loud. It is crowded. The food and wine flow so freely you don’t remember what you ate, but that it was the best food you’ve ever had (until the buzz wears off). If you don’t think that this is what a tapas bar should be, please leave Noche immediately and head down to Sycamore St.

piggy

May 25th, 2010
7:53 pm

everything in Atlanta is so 5 years ago but it doesn’t stop people from thinking the burger craze just started. all Atlanta needs is more fat people.

ipig’s food is mediocre at best but the drinks and the barkeeps make it a place you want to be at. when you’re drunk and having a good time who cares what the food tastes like. except for the Haute Dog, bacon wrapped fried hot dog.

RK

May 25th, 2010
8:06 pm

puerquito — I’m right there with you. I’ve lived in Spain for a while, and it isn’t a type of cuisine that needs much. That coffee mayo sounds foul by itself, but to ruin the greatness of jamon serrano?

Adriana

May 25th, 2010
8:16 pm

It’s really a great place for wine, tapas and conversation and although I had a great time, I left feeling like everything I ate was super caloric, as if I had just eaten a week’s worth of calories. So I’ll definitely be back, but I feel like I have to pace myself. Brings back wonderful memories of Spain, so perhaps the clientele is a bit more international and/or adventurous? The big, warm, hug thing does not hold true if you dine at one of the tables close to the window. The harsh, cold light from the street lamps kills the mood. I wish they would add some shades and turn up the indoor lighting, which is warm and beautiful. Oh, and the back lit, ice block at the bar was amazing…could have watched it melt and the bar tender hack at that all night. Worth going just for that.

Katherine

May 25th, 2010
8:53 pm

I visited a few months ago and found it to be really hit or miss. Great charcuterie and the pork cheek tacos were lovely, but other items just fell flat. And I had the worst sangria I”ve ever tasted.

Puerquito

May 25th, 2010
9:05 pm

@ AD: “The Iberian Pig epitomizes the true Spanish tapas bar”
Margaritas+Tacos = Mexico not Spain.
I am in no way saying that the food is not tasty (although I fully agree with RK). However, there is some false advertising going on at the Iberian Pig.
I did not see a single soul drinking Sherry. They do not even have a Fino or Manzanilla available!!!
And if they wanted to infuse booze with Bacon, I would suggest Brandy de Jerez.
Bottom line is that the Iberian Pig may very well be an agreeable palce to hang out. But a tapas restaurant it is not. The fact they have a main course section on their menu is ludicrous.

Puerquito

May 25th, 2010
10:19 pm

correction – Margaritas+Tacos = Southern California, not Mexico. Mexicans don’t drink margaritas…

East Lake Ira

May 26th, 2010
9:04 am

My wife and I have been twice… It’s okay, nothing special. So so food, good service, overall not bad but not good enough to enter our rotation – we’ll stick with our usuals for now: Mexcalitos, Rathbun’s, U-Joint, The Porter, Brickstore, and our newest entry Farm Burger.

Chip Shoulder

May 26th, 2010
9:10 am

We live 1/2 mile away, eat out more often than we should, and have been to the Pig once. To be sure, it wasn’t bad, and I think it’s a great addition to Decatur Square. We sat at the bar. After an initial service hiccup (I don’t think the servers realized we were not the couple who had just left our seats, so we sat there being ignored by the 5 people behind the bar), the service was great. The house-made spicy ginger ale was the best thing we had. Again, the food was not bad, but there was too much going on in every dish. Example: they lashed the Kurobuta pork belly was lashed with two sauces, both sweet, neither adding anything. I also found an overtone of sweetness in every dish except a green salad with Marcona almonds, chorizo, and which was perfectly – that is, barely – dressed. After the sugar overload, we skipped dessert and walked over to the Yogurt Tap for something less sweet.

Kendall

May 26th, 2010
9:40 am

John,
I agree with your assessment 100%. It was ok, but nothing special. Perhaps if I lived within walking distance, I would go back, but there are too many better choices out there.

Ramona Clef

May 26th, 2010
9:42 am

Enter your comments here

Hungry Gringo

May 26th, 2010
9:44 am

I keep saying I should try this place, but every time I find myself on the Decatur square, I end up at Brickstore with a tall glass of something delicious and European faster than you can say Weihenstephaner.

joe

May 26th, 2010
9:59 am

it’s not bad but it’s not worth the rap. the bacon infused bourbon is second to tier to Leon’s, when they have it. The food it’s ok, not bad but just ok, would i go back, maybe but you would have to convince me not to go to Cakes & Ale, Leon’s, or the Porter for that matter. You’ll spend more here than you realize once the bill finally hits the table

petitecocotte

May 26th, 2010
10:03 am

I lived in Spain for a year, so I had extremely high hopes when I first heard that Iberian Pig was opening in Decatur. I’ve been there two or three times now. It’s a great place for cocktails and the service is fantastic. However, nothing on the menu seems particularly authentic to me and while I love jamon, Iberian Pig’s take seems a bit gimmicky. My less-than-enthusiastic assessment of the food aside, it’s a great addition to the neighborhood and I frequently meet friends there for cocktails and snacks. And I would like to see at least one Spanish restaurant (quasi-Spanish, in this case) survive here in Atlanta.

Ramona Clef

May 26th, 2010
10:15 am

(Sorry for the double post.)

I am glad that you raised this question, John, I had dinner at the IP this month and I’ve been trying to evaluate it ever since. I agree that it’s a lovely place: we felt a bit glamorous and definitely well looked after. The food seemed to be of high quality, nicely cooked and imaginative. But a little elaborate for the way I eat now. (I had a special of ravioli stuffed with a slow roasted meat–veal?–and BF had the lamb ribs from the menu. We shared an appetizer of foie gras french toast.) Lately I’m looking for good ingredients, simply prepared. That’s not a ding against IP, we just like different things.

I’d like to return to IP for a glass of wine and tapas. I think that’s the intersection of what they do and what I like. Next time I want to drop that kind of coinage in Decatur, I’ll return to Cakes & Ale.

Two other things: I very much appreciate the contribution the restaurant makes to Decatur. They have participated in the wine festival, the Green Festival, The Book Festival and the Arts Festival. They’ve joined the DBA. I like that.
The other thing is a little weird. What’s with that list of rules in the bar? Is it supposed to be tongue in cheek? That joke works better at The Vortex. I asked the bartender if they had had a problem which made the rules necessary. He said no, they started with the rules in order to forestall any problems. Maybe I’ve got a little libertarian deep inside but that rubs me wrong.

In sum, I’m glad the IP is here in Decatur and I wish them every success. I’ll see you at the bar for a small plate before walking elsewhere for dinner.

ATLien

May 26th, 2010
10:34 am

Been to IP 3 times. Love the bar and the bartenders – top notch. Really like the friendly service, vibe of the restaurant and that they have added outside tables. Like the food. The pork cheek tacos, manchego mac-n-cheese and bbq octupus were good small plates. The flat bread pizza was a nice table share and the ingredients were yummy. A few main courses are good but not memorable.
Although not “wowed,” I think IP is a nice addition to Decatur and hope it continues to serve the community.

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
12:02 pm

@ Ramona Clef: the house rules are a pathetic attemt to emulate what other well known bars have been doing for over a decade. Someone proabably checked out Milk and Honey’s website and decided it would be a good idea to have something similar.
The Iberian Pig is a bit of a Frankenstein restaurant, clumsy but with a good heart…

HotlantaHobo

May 26th, 2010
12:27 pm

John, I suspect you’ve hit on a pretty accurate description of too many trendy local places. What I notice is that in this scene, it’s all about the drinks. After that, the food doesn’t matter. And how many hipsters really want to eat a substantial coursed meal these days anyway? It’s all about getting tipsy and having fun, something this place seems to provide rather well.

With most trendy places, there is a struggle to find dishes that might have an enduring appeal, rather than the hip ingredients of the moment. Seldom do I wake up thinking “gosh I’d like to have a plate of _______with ______-infused reduction.” In Spain and all over Europe each country evolved a cuisine that was based local tastes and ingredients that stood the test of time, not trendiness or an appeal to one target market. Wish there was more demand for that way of thinking these days.

HotlantaHobo

May 26th, 2010
12:33 pm

And John, you’re not over analyzing….it’s just what good food writing is all about. More please!

Shasta

May 26th, 2010
12:54 pm

That’s a great question/observation. I liked the restaurant so much that I actually joined their Facebook page. Unusual gesture for me. I liked Iberian Pig because of the atmosphere, yes, the company I was with and definitely the service (talk about effusive and enthusiastic – in a way that makes the dining experience and experience) – but I also really liked to menu. My table shared lots of plates and I nibbled on such a variety of really yummy, innovative treats and had such a nice glass of wine that I felt relieved to have once again found a restaurant that I wanted to come back to – and that’s hard in Atlanta. There are so MANY! and one can feel overwhelmed and even guilty for missing out on some hidden culinary treasure by frequenting a new love – maybe rather like playing the field when you are dating? You hate to commit too quickly if you only have a limited window of opportunity to dine out (read – BABY). Mostly I walked away wanting them to stay OPEN and to keep serving the best Charcuteria options I’ve seen anywhere (ups to the Salchichon) – and great cheese options with engaging descriptions? Oh…more, please. Bottom line – I felt hip again sitting there and soaking up the atmosphere – and I got a great meal, too.

Polorussell

May 26th, 2010
1:05 pm

Well, we love the pig. I like experiencing new flavors. Yes, some of it is a little over the top, but OMG, the Foie Gras French Toast…we shared it 4 ways for an appetizer and I had to have it again as dessert!

Iceman47

May 26th, 2010
2:26 pm

I know what you mean….we went there recently with another couple and had a wonderful time but it took me a couple of minutes to remember what we had and how it tasted. We loved it though and we will be going back! Great vibe….oh, you already said that!

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
2:34 pm

Clearly, in Atlanta, style trumps substance…

East Lake Ira

May 26th, 2010
3:38 pm

Puerquito: Your snark is soooooo last year.

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
3:57 pm

@ East Lake Ira: there is definitely snide in my last remark, but no trace of sarcasm.

Fred

May 26th, 2010
4:06 pm

The only problem with Atlanta is that the natives are grossly out numbered by the transplants. Yet the transplants (who make up the majority of the population and a majority of the problems) are always harping on how backwards and behind Atlanta is.

Simple solution: Go home.

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
4:26 pm

Fred is right, all those people who bring diverstity and culture should just go home.
If “they” keep coming Atlanta might become another New York or San Franciso, full of transplants and foreigners, and we all know what culinary wastelands those places are.

RK

May 26th, 2010
4:33 pm

I would check out their web site, but it doesn’t appear to be working.

I’ll be going to Amada in Philly tomorrow night, for real Spanish food. Eclipse di Luna does a good job with Spanish food, as well.

Farris Anderson

May 26th, 2010
6:50 pm

I was greatly disappointed by this restaurant. It was noisy, crowded, and chaotic. As for the food, I have lived many years in Spain and have always had a particular interest in food. I can assure you that the food served at the Iberian Pig has nothing to do with Spanish cuisine.

Jace

May 26th, 2010
8:28 pm

Never been there and won’t go. Went to an interview there before it opened and the interview took place outside in the 150 degree summer heat. Too cheap to rent a room somewhere or to have it at the library across the street. The interviewer (Buckhead Betty) was a joke.

melissa

May 26th, 2010
10:09 pm

the iberian pig is just sugo, renamed and redecorated for the itp set.

The Real Foodie

May 27th, 2010
7:43 am

You’re right you ARE over analyzing.

RL

May 28th, 2010
4:24 pm

I’ve been once and it was fine, good service, the food was pretty good and the interior is nice. I was not at all impressed by the bartender who was using a jigger at the bar to measure out alcohol for a two ingredient drink. Anyway, it’s fine, not great not bad. I would much prefer to go to Cakes & Ale for the similar price point or Leon’s for a more economical meal. Not exactly sue how it fits in the Decatur dining scene but based on the consistently packed restaurant it looks like I am in the minority.

Puerquito

May 28th, 2010
5:00 pm

@ RL: using a jigger is an essential tool of the professianl bartender.

Jessica

May 29th, 2010
10:38 pm

I was looking for a Cuerno replacement but like others did not find IP to be an authentic Spanish meal and also not spectacular. The wine was really great though.

eli from Decatur

May 30th, 2010
6:17 pm

I felt the exact same way! It was an adequate dining experience and they tried so hard, but is that enough? Let’s just say that we have not been back.

Curt

May 31st, 2010
9:52 am

Iberian Pig is like a mediocre first date. You can’t find a reason to dislike the person, but no real reason for date number two either.

I went with some friends just over a week ago and while the drinks were good, the food was very hit or miss. I think there’s a bit of authenticity missing to the whole affair. The food seems too complicated for the spirit it wants to invoke.

pika

May 31st, 2010
4:18 pm

I met friends there for dinner after a really terrible day. We had drinks and several of the small plates out on the sidewalk, on a beautiful, breezy evening. I have to say, we really enjoyed ourselves, and it was the perfect place to blow off some steam and indulge in some fatty food. But now that I am trying to remember, I can’t name a single dish that we tried, although I remember enjoying them all. I’d probably go back, but it wouldn’t be for a big special occasion where I really wanted something extraordinary.

Msquared

June 1st, 2010
5:59 pm

More fun at the bar than at the tables. By the time our waiter finished the specials recitation, with 4 or 5 special ingredients on each, I couldn’t remember them all. 3 of the items he described were 86ed when he took our order. I have sat at the bar a few times and enjoyed serrano ham and good cheese with a glass of wine and enjoyed myself. An Iberian restaurant with no white anchovies and South American wines, though?

Martin

June 2nd, 2010
4:15 pm

Weird review …people like it, food and service pretty good to good, good vibe… HOWEVER it is not a true spanish tapas restaurant so …You have been there once , I am wondering if this is a review or talking out loud to get your head around the place. Not every movie is oscar worthy, not every restaurant is james beard worthy, yet you can still enjoy for what it is and not for what is not.
Lighten up and relax a little and enjoy. The place is not perfect , still fun , go enjoy

Jay

June 2nd, 2010
6:17 pm

I would like to be enlightened as to why John Kessler can write a blog on the 25th of May on The Iberian Pig and get many comments-positive and negative-and then the AJC publishes his blog in the paper on June 2nd. Is it that John tosses out a thought and sees just what kind of reaction he can get and if the responses support his theory the blog then becomes newsworthy?
I, for one don’t really understand what John’s blog and the AJC’s publication of it was really supposed to accomplish. It seemed like a left-handed compliment at best.
I live in Decatur and have been to IP many times in the last few months. My friends and I have enjoyed ourselves everytime. I agree with alot of the comments about the service being very energetic but have also become accustomed to having nice conversations with the managers and owners while we’ve been there. It is a terrific addition to the Decatur restaurant scene, particularly on that eyesore of a strip on that side of the square.
I still wonder why, or for what good did Mr. Kessler feel that he needed to publish such a “review” (which it wasn’t).
Was it just snobbishness?

Philly Dan

June 6th, 2010
6:57 pm

The Ibeerian Pig is not a SPANISH restaurant…it is inspired by SPANISH ingredients and has influences from many different places and bills itself that way. They are just named after a PIG. The only places I have heard such negativity about them are places where people clearly want something different, if you want ad AUTHENTIC SPANISH restaurant and such, open one, clearly you people know how to do it , so why haven’t you done it for your city?
We love it and also understand it isn’t a Spanish restaurant. Oh and whoever said the food in Metro cities is worse and transplants go home….go get some chicken wings…y’all still have plenty of chicken shacks.

mike

June 21st, 2010
12:20 am

Been there twice, food was good not great. Like many people who have traveled and tasted real Spanish food, the food served at IP was not authentic, but I don’t think the owners tried to pass it off as one. I like to say that owners mashed up a fusion Spanish dish that tasted decent, and try to pass it off as something exotic made up with spices and sauces that are overdone on some dishes. I personally feel many of the sauces used were too sweet which covered up the natural taste of the meat.

Its still a great place to hang out, have a bite and relax.